Every year in San Francisco there is an “Escape From Alcatraz” triathlon. The athletes start on Alcatraz island and swim 1.4 miles in the bay’s icy waters until they reach a beach in the Marina District where a crowd of on lookers form a runway of receiving lines that the swimmers run through high fiving people on each side of them.
I get choked up every time I see anyone attempting a formal athletic event. How brave of them to try something so difficult in front of so many people. So when one of Britt’s friends told us he was participating in this event a few years ago I was totally into it. We joined one of the lines and waited for the first swimmers to emerge from the bay on wobbly legs and run between the lines of people cheering them on.
Over the course of the morning dozens and dozens of amazing athletes came running out of the bay and disappeared into the cheering crowd. Most wore wetsuits but the more hardcore just wore racing swimsuits and swim caps. Some were friends that crawled up on the shore together, victorious, holding hands and laughing and then high fived their side of the line until they reached their bikes and went onto the next part of the race.
Midway through the morning a woman splashed her way out of the water with a friend, laughing and smiling, ready to high five the crowd. The crowd collectively hushed and the cheering paused just for a second before a spattering of support started back up.
“Uh, Britt,” I said, “Is she naked??”
“Um, oh my gosh, I’m not sure.” he said.
We were staring in shock. The woman was wearing a peach colored swimsuit that probably, when it was dry, was not totally transparent. But in the sunlight, soaking wet, it clung to her like wet crepe paper and became completely see through.
Unaware of the crowd’s collective gasp, she smiled widely and ran between the receiving lines, high fiving anyone offering a hand, oblivious that she was living most peoples’ nightmare of being naked in front of a crowd of people.
The cheering grew louder and louder as the seemingly naked woman ran through it. I don’t know if everyone was cheering her nakedness or wanted to offer kindness in that moment and that was all anyone could think to do.
I hope that she never found out that she had an invisible swimsuit on that day. She swam a mile and half in the icy waters and dangerous currents of the bay for God’s sake and then went on to bike and run the insane hills of SF. She deserves to think back on that day with zero embarrassment and to think to herself forever more, that the crowd cheered loudest for her.